Fuse #8

Friday, June 09, 2006

Review of the Day: Move!

I review a lot of children's books, but people like Steve Jenkins and Robin Page sometimes make me question the necessity of it all. Is there any point to reviewing the newest Jenkins/Page title ... ever? I mean, let's examine the facts here. These guys get better and more creative with every passing book. Now Jenkins does fine and dandy on his own, true, but Page has the narrative oomph to turn any title from "beautifully illustrated but not much going on" to "beautifully illustrated and written with an intelligent hand". Take into account the wonderful animal facts alongside the cut-paper pictures that make Eric Carle look like a slacker (he's not, people, I'm just making a point) and what you have is book after book after book of utterly unique wildlife picture books. So why even review them? Well, there's always the off-chance that somebody somewhere has never even heard, "What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?" and others of its ilk. With that in mind, it only makes sense to turn the spotlight again and again and again to the picture book world's resident geniuses.

Says the book, "Animals move in different ways". The first thing you see, you really see, when you open up this book is a furry brown gibbon in mid-swing. The big word "swing" is in clear black letters on a white background alongside the sentence, "A gibbon swings through jungle trees . . .". Turn the page and now the word of the two-page spread is "walk". On the left-hand page is our gibbon friend, only now he's carefully choosing his steps to the sentence, ". . . or walks on two back legs". On the right-hand page is another animal walking. It's a jacana walking on some floating lily pads. Now turn the page and the word is "dive". You get the idea. Each animal in this book gets two action verbs to act out in some manner. A run might turn into a dance or a slide into a waddle. The end the book shows a single pair of human feet alongside the question, "Animals move in different ways ... how about you?". The answer? MOVE!

What author Robin Page has done and done well is pair entirely different kinds of animals and insects alongside one another using a verb that can describe both. You wouldn't initially think that a polar bear and a jumping spider have much in common. But hold the word "float" up to both and you can see how they inhabit the term in entirely different ways. The book follows a logical progression, ending with two pages at the back that give factual information about the critters we've already seen. Did your kid know that the African jacana's toes keep it afloat on the lily pads it uses as stepping stones? They will now.

With Page's words to guide him, Jenkins gives as much oomph and surprise action as he can to his illustrations without going so far as to make them three-dimensional. So if the word is "leap", you can bet your bottom dollar that both the armadillo and crocodile are going to be giving you your money's worth on that verb. Plus there's Jenkins's attention to detail. That crocodile, for example, isn't just bursting out of the water (note the copious splashing action going on through dots of paper alone). There's the reflective gleam in the croc's eye. The grey-green paper, just wrinkly enough to suggest the texture of crocodile skin. And though I have no proof of this, I think it's safe to say that Jenkins probably researched how many teeth crocs have and gave his the required amount. Just a guess, but this is the kind of book to give you faith in the matter. There's not a single bird or beastie here that seems simplistic or out-of-place. Look at the cover, for crying out loud. How does a guy who works entirely in the medium of cut-paper make a bunny look furry? How? Answer me that.

Whenever I review a book by the Jenkins & Page team I end up sounded like their cheering section. It's not an entirely unpleasant sensation either. Just as long as the two of them keep churning out books as remarkable, both visually and in the written form, as "Move!", I'll be content to keep giving them kudos after kudos. A truly beautiful beast.


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